September 23, 2015

Arts and Sciences Posting Seeks Candidate From ‘Underrepresented Group’

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A Sept. 10 job posting from the College of Arts and Sciences for an assistant professor position has taken an unorthodox approach with its broad description that seeks candidates from underrepresented groups and does not specify the exact department the candidate will work in.

“[The college] is seeking to hire a tenure-track assistant professor in some area of the humanities or qualitative social sciences,” reads the job description. “We are especially interested in considering applications from members of underrepresented groups, those who have faced economic hardship, are first-generation college graduates or work on topics related to these issues.”

Recognizing the unconventional nature of the job posting, Gretchen Ritter ’83, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, called it “an unusual experi­ment on the part of the [college].”

“This faculty advertisement aims to attract a broad range of applicants across numerous fields in the social sciences and humanities,” Ritter said. “In the context of this and all of our searches, we want to create the broadest, strongest pool possible, and one that includes applicants from all backgrounds.”

The position’s description has piqued the interests of academics online. Speculation about the listing stirred on social media as professors and graduates questioned its validity.

Karen Kelsky, author of The Professor Is In, described the listing as “really bizarre” in a Chronicle of Higher Education article.

“If I were a job applicant, this would be very anxiety-inducing,” Kelsky said. “There is such a gaping void of non-information. It seems more demoralizing than anything.”

Despite the post’s mention of “underrepresented groups,” however, Prof. Scott MacDonald, philosophy, added that the job posting is not targeting any specific applicant.

“We’re not looking for or expecting any sort of unusual applicant,” clarified MacDonald, who is also senior associate dean for arts and humanities.

The school is expecting the same large number of applicants who would have responded to the posting had it been run multiple times individually for each department that expressed interest in hiring outstanding candidates, he said.

In addition, the job posting reads that the position is contingent on available funding.

“At present, it is uncertain whether the college will have funding available for next academic year to support one or more appointments coming out of this search,” MacDonald said. “‘Contingent on available funding’ is included in the advertisement in an effort to be transparent about the status of the position advertised.”

Many of Cornell’s colleges and schools are facing budget stringencies this academic year, with the College of Arts and Sciences suffering from a $5 to $10 million budget reduction, The Sun previously reported. Earlier this academic year in a memo sent out to senior administrators and deans, President Elizabeth Garrett challenged units to streamline their resources and cut unnecessary expenditure.

According to Ritter, due to the arts college’s need to operate “in a time of reduced hiring,” the open-ended nature of the job posting is a more effective way to find the scholars the college seeks.

“This open-search approach can be an effective way to identify up-and-coming scholars who can continue Cornell’s long-standing commitment to the humanities and social sciences,” Ritter said.

MacDonald added that besides being more effective, the job posting also aims to be more efficient in hiring for the college.

“We expect that this search will in fact save faculty time and departmental resources compared with the alternative of running multiple searches in departments spread across the college,” MacDonald said. “[However, the contingency] is not a direct response to President Garrett’s call to streamline.”

The strategy behind the job posting was to productively show interest in hiring in any one of multiple departments in the humanities and social sciences that face pressing needs, added MacDonald.